I'm a scientist who is learning more about sales and especially complex B2B process. Is sales really inherent or can it be taught?
There are three components to sales:
1) know your product.
2) know your client bases's needs
3) know your market.
You have to start with #1. If you don't understand how your own product works, I am not sure what to tell you. You have to have a 100% crystal-clear notion of how to explain it in a clear and concise fashion. I worked for a cybersecurity company selling software I that I had NO IDEA how it truly functioned. I was given binders and packets and information and PDFs. So, my job as the salesman was to distill this information down into soundbytes that would be digestible for the potential client. Not every single client I spoke to knew what I was talking about, which is why our team had this role called a Sales Engineer. The Sales Engineer was the one who stepped in once the tech jargon got to be too overwhelming or obscure to the regular salesperson. The Sales Engineer and regular sales reps worked in conjunction to close the deal. The sales rep was the "charm" and the sales engineer was the "brains". The duo worked very well as the company I worked for went public during my time there and revenues only rose. It is a good system.
#2) Know your customers' needs: This SHOULD be the most common sense out of the 3 pillars of sales, but many people ignore this one. A product doesn't succeed in the marketplace because the designers think it's awesome or because it has a million cool features. A product successfully launches, gains brand differentiation, and lasts because the people selling it know, 100%, without a shadow of a doubt that their Product X fills needs A, B, and/or C in their clientele. Take velcro for a second. Mothers who were super-busy in the morning making lunches for 3 or 4 kids at the same time were dying for a way to cut down on time. Someone slapped velcro on sneakers and tying time went from 5-10 minutes per kid depending on age to 15 seconds of velcro fastening that younger and younger children mastered. Velcro on shoes phased out at one point, but for a while, the product was massively successful in the footwear space. Why? Because the person who slapped it on a pair of sneakers understood the need he was filling. This is a golden rule for ANY product or service, from legal services to leisure products; from software to hardware, and from screwdrivers to snowmobiles. I do not care WHAT you are selling. You have to be able speaking intelligently and (somewhat) interestingly on the subject.
3) know you market: This one is a double-edged sword. We live in an age where data abounds and people are obsessed with it. My personal approach is to learn on the fly what I need to know from the very person I am trying to sell to in that moment. To so many people, this seems impractical, foolhardy, and even intimidating. I have been told so many times that the approach is too maverick because I don't use tons of marketing data. Well, my response is thta too much data can spoil your brain. I call it the "toothpaste dilemma". Have you ever been in a supermarket standing in front of the toothpaste section trying to decide which one is best? It can take a long time. Data sets are the same. You look at them and one tells you to go "up". The other says "go down". The next one says "No, left.". The fourth says "No to the right." And you are left in the middle with "information inundation". I say forget it. It's not worth your time.
What you want to focus on is getting clients on the phone/getting client meetings. The ONLY way to sell is to talk to somebody who has decision-making power to buy. Get as many of those meetings as you can. Start conversations about their needs. LISTEN more than you TALK.
What a good salesperson does is diagnose a problem. Salesman Jim knows that his product, Blammo Whammo Cleaner will clean ketchup stains but not oil stains. So, if he is talking to someone who has a big oil spill to clean up, should he recommend Blammo Whammo? Absolutely not. That wouldn't fill the customer's needs. This example is a really big over-simplification, admittedly, but the core principal is there.
A few tiny pointers that may or may not be teachable. For me, the jury is still out.
a) conversational skills: remember, you are just TALKING to someone
b) do NOT get desperate: a friend of mine once called this "commission breath". It is the phenomenon of a salesman who starts to talk a little too fast and emote that he REALLY wants the sale. Yeah... NOT good. Don't EVER do that. You will surely lose the deal.
b) be Zen: Modern-day sales is an exercise in meditation. You will place tons of calls and send tons of emails. (If you are not making at least 60 sales calls per day, per sales person, you aren't doing enough.) You cannot get attached to the outcome of every single email/voicemail. In fact, most you send will get ignored. It's not that your product sucks or that you are a bad person. It's that people are busy, organizations have taken on more and more work with less and less personnel, and you are just one more salesman making an attempt to get someone's money. The faster you learn how un-special you are, the easier your sales job gets.
c) have FUN! I've never understood these overly-conservative, stuffed-shirt companies that have super-strict phone protocols for sales people. While I get that an executive may wish to run his organization with certain overtones, if you strip your sales teams of all ability to play and have some fun with potential clients, then you are just taking away revenue from yourself. I once had a man talk to me for an hour because during the call he told me his son had just died. My boss saw me talking for a while and came over and told me to hang up. He thought I was wasting time. I disobeyed the order because I was not going to hang up on a man whose son had passed away the day before. That is horrendous and classless. So, I ignored my boss. At the end of the talk, this man and I had a bond and he ended up making a purchase from me. He apologized for getting so off-topic and I reassured him that it was fine and it was an honor to listen to him get all that off his chest.
Which brings me to my final point. Sales is an ORGANIC CONVERSATION between two human beings. Not two data sets. Not two spreadsheets. Not two computers.
Your question, Harvey, is "is sales really inherent or can it be taught"?
It can ONLY be taught to someone who is coachable, willing to learn, willing to have fun, and has a flexible enough personality to speak to a culturally diverse audience of people.
A wise, wealthy man once told me: "Everyone is in sales."
He's right. There is no such thing as a sales department.
The CEO - sells the message of the company to the public and changes to the board members
The CTO: sell the tech people on the newest tech developments the company needs to buy to improve ops
HR: sells employees on rules and regulations for a stable, harmonious workplace
Marketing: sells one another internally on best concepts for how to continue to develop brand differentiation
And on, and on, and on.
So, Harvey Galvin, "scientist-turned-salesperson", I ask you: now that you've read my answer... what do YOU think?
Can sales be taught?
Let us look at this problem from another angle: when I view a potential investment, I prefer the leader to be experienced in marketing or finance, not science. Why? Those guys are motivated by the bottom line. Most scientists I meet focus too much on their patents or their "unique" technology. In the end, any company's survival and success stem from their growth and profitability. And marketing/finance has those objectives. Now, can it be taught? Yes. I have met scientists and doctors who attended business school and have led successful companies. That leads to the conclusion that is is not necessarily intuitive. Marketing is a very different mindset from science.
For me Sales is neither inherit nor taught. This is just understanding of customers problem and how you are going to solve it. Then its about will you be able to deliver as committed and at what cost?
There are most of the techniques taught in Sales but they are more of the management of your prospects.
I don't think that sales is any more inherent than science is. A 'people person' makes for a good salesperson because they already are over the first hurdle. They enjoy talking to people, however, that doesn't make them a good salesperson. Just liking to talk to people doesn't mean that you are able to curate relationships, establish a need, create a sense of urgency, research, grasp complex domains, persevere or, most importantly, close. Those are all skills that need to be research and developed upon.
Conversely, if someone is not a people person, their first hurdle, talking to people, might be tough, but all of the other things might come more naturally.
Hope this helps! Get out there and sell, Killer!
For me, the most difficult thing was to explain in simple words to my potential customers about what we do and how we can help. It took time to learn. The next thing was about dealing with all the politics and such to finalize the deal and ensure the contract is signed and payment is received.
Sometimes I just hope life could be simpler and I just have to focus on delivering the best service.
The sales process MUST be taught. I started adult life as a design engineer. I was pretty good engineer, two patents in 3 years, but I was not happy. Good engineers get joy out of order and small accomplishments. They also are extremely good at staying focus on one problem.
Sales people typically have have very little patience. They do not ENJOY small steps forward. They are able to handle many tasks at a time. A major ability of a good sales person is the ability deal negative news and objections. I think many of these traits are formed growing up. They are not, but very hard to learn in a short period of time.
The biggest mistake tech founders make is selling features and benefits exclusively and not addressing the emotional reasons their customers buy.
Anyone can learn to sell. It is a learned skill even though it's not one typically taught in an accredited setting, like science. It's one that is learned by absorbing the experience of others and by increasing emotional intelligence by interacting with people in the marketplace.
I actually designed a entire sales course around Founders Who Sell for CoFoundersLab (you can find it in the Resources section), or you can download you free Sales Playbook Template here which will take you step by step through designing a strategy and scripts to sell your products or services: https://jpmpartners.teachable.com/p/sales-playbook-template
I take the approach that people make decisions first emotionally and back them up with logic, so I teach people how to identify and address the emotional reasons their customers buy and take them on a journey to "Yes!".
Hope you enjoy and feel free to reach out with any questions.. this is my area of expertise.
If you never learned computers, you know that you are not qualified as a programmer. If you never learned law, you will ask a lawyer to do your legal work. But sales seems to be different. Many technology people believe that anyone can do sales, so they try to become sales people or guide sales people. Mostly it results in a disaster.
Sales is a profession like any other. There are the tricks of the trades, there are connection there is experience. The biggest problem for tech founders is that they do not recognize this fact, and mess it up.
Hey Harvey, Sales is not inherent by any stretch. I have had some of the greatest sales people be scientists or engineers because of their ability to walk through a process that works for them. It is not even impossible for an introvert to be great at sales as with modern selling and consultative processes the one who listens and gains the trust is usually the winner.